Construction vs Destruction

Warning: Much pondering and thinking out loud ahead.

So for the past week or so I’ve been playing Frontierville on Facebook, and for part of that time Tipa of West Karana has been my neighbor. She reviewed the game today and I urge you to read what she had to say.

I don’t disagree with her at all, and yet I think I like the game more than she does, and I was going to post a comment explaining why when I realized I couldn’t exactly say why. So I’ve been pondering that, and then Scopique talked about crafting and process and minigames and that kind of got stirred into my thought process.

I’ve always loved crafting in MMOs. I remember when Ultima Online was the reigning king, some upstart (I think it was EQ but don’t quote me that) ran an ad campaign where they kind of jeered at UO saying, “Would you rather craft a chair or kill an orc.” And I was all like “RAWR! KILL THE ORC! KILL THE ORC!”

At least, that’s what I thought I wanted. But crafting in EQ was really frustrating and not a huge part of the game (at least back then) and I missed UO’s crafting system. I still miss it to an extent. There’re only a handful of MMOs with really rich crafting systems. UO, SWG, Vanguard… maybe I’ve missed some.

But the idea of harvesting materials and using them to make something is really appealing to me. Back when I lived in a rural area I had an interest in woodworking and gardening and constructing things, but that all sort of dropped away when I became an urban/suburban apartment dweller. Crafting scratches that construction itch, in some small way.

There are many, many games about Destruction (at the very simplest level…killing opponents) but not as many about Construction. Or at least I’m not familiar with as many. City-building games (and 4X games scratch both itches… you build up your empire and tear down the enemy’s). Most Construction in games is either in a kind of software toy (ie The Sims) or it means actually building assets for the game (Little Big Planet, or any game with a level editor).

Tipa says of Frontierville: “As a GAME game, well, there�s really no point to the game.” and she’s right. Zynga’s #1 goal is that you never “finish” the game and stop paying for items, right?

But what I get from Frontierville is that same UO construction itch scratched. I take some odd satisfaction out of clearing the land (and in so doing harvesting wood for buildings) and then bringing order to my little plot. Technically I guess this is Destruction: I’m destroying trees and such. Maybe I should be using “increasing/decreasing entropy” rather than construction/destruction.

It’s true my options are limited, but they’re not fixed. I can start to build whatever building I feel the urge to build (though as you gain levels you gain more options) but then I have to rely on “Neighbors” for supplies.

Neighbors, though… they’re kind of important to me. Remember back when I talked about We Rule on the iPad? I didn’t have much good to say about it, but guess what? I still play it.

But Construction gaming is always more fun when you can show it off. No one really sees my We Rule kingdom anymore, but in Frontierville I have evidence of who has come to visit. Granted they don’t come to see what I’ve done…they come to get bonuses and materials…for gameplay reasons. But I know when I go visiting I make note of what my friends are up to. This one is all about function, that one is chaotic, and this third one has spent a lot of real $$ on special items…what a surprise. I feel like I get tiny glimpses into the personalities and minds of the players.

Going back to UO, once you built your house and furnished it, what was the next logical step? Throwing a party, of course. Have people come over to see what you’ve made.

Someone on my forums referred to a type of gamer they called a Decorator and I thought that was a very good term. It was in a discussion about “What is a real game” and he (I know him only as Bognor) said:

There is a class of gamer called a “collector” and another called a “decorator”. Farmville and its ilk appeals to these classes because they have opportunities to acquire “rares” and to build esthetically pleasing farm layouts. There exist choices in this context, and competition within these classes. To those of use who are not collectors or decorators, there is not much appeal in Farmville.

That made a ton of sense to me. That collector part of me, I’ve always known about, but the decorator is a new self-discovery. My We Rule kingdom is now laid out like a “real” kingdom would be, with the road to the castle literally paved in gold and surrounded by statuary and sparkly trees. Why? There’s no gameplay reason for it, but it was pleasing to me to do… although it took me weeks and weeks of playing before I started doing it.

I’m not an artist, although I’ve always wished I had some artistic talent. In some way these not-games like We Rule, Frontierville, or MMOs with rich crafting systems let me pretend to be an artist for a little while.

Does my Frontierville plot look unique? Honestly no…there isn’t that much variability between plots. But it is still mine, laid out as I wanted to lay it out. I’m pretty anal about pulling weeds that sprout up in cleared areas…I guess in some tiny sense I take some pride in my space. And I suspect when I get to the point where all the forest has been cleared and all the land tamed, I’ll probably lose interest (if not before).

My next project might be actually working on my character’s inn room in EQ2. I see the crazy things people build and while I’m impressed by them, I also find the range of options a bit daunting. Again, with these simple not-games, the limited choices are almost a blessing. There’s nothing intimidating about arranging your barn and cabin and apple trees in Frontierville, y’know?

I don’t know if I have a point here. Like I said at the top of the post, this is more stream-of-consciousness thinking about *why* I’m enjoying a game that is hardly a game (and which draws such ire from a large population of ‘core gamers’).

6 thoughts on “Construction vs Destruction

  1. I wouldn’t say I don’t like Frontierville; in fact I like it for what I mentioned, as a lesson in capitalism. I’ve worked out crop rotation to fit my schedule with good rates of return, which animals (of the ones available) work out best, and why trees are poor investments. By reading the Frontierville forums, I’ve discovered tips like putting your chickens along an edge of the world so that the occasional fox is instantly killed, leaving great rewards for zero clicks and making chickens on the edge by far the most profitable animal.

    It appeals to the part of me that like figuring out process. But heck, I’m a programmer, this is the kind of thing I like. I feel the setting is terribly inaccurate, and without much trouble, they could have designed just a little more realism. For instance, I have no idea where in the West you would find oaks, tall pines and cactus together. Or why your spouse just wouldn’t make the trip WITH you. Or what happened to the horses that pulled your covered wagon across the country. Or how many people died of dysentery along the way.

    But that’s not the POINT. The point is to manage assets and investments. If they made a “Wall Street-ville”, I’d be first in line.

  2. Besides, since I can’t advance the plot of the game until more people send me junk, figuring out investment stuff is really all I can do in the game 😛

  3. There’s been a lot of talk lately about changing the way the housing system work in LOTRO, specifically how the “hooks” work (hooks are the predetermined places in your house where you can place items). Some think they are too limiting and want the hooks gone altogether. While I’m all for the removal of the hooks, your statement here rings true for my feelings about removing the hooks:

    “My next project might be actually working on my character�s inn room in EQ2. I see the crazy things people build and while I�m impressed by them, I also find the range of options a bit daunting. Again, with these simple not-games, the limited choices are almost a blessing. There�s nothing intimidating about arranging your barn and cabin and apple trees in Frontierville, y�know?”

    I think right now in LOTRO there is a great mix of choice and restraint. There are tons of ways to decorate your house, but the hooks provide me a limitation so that it doesn’t seem all that daunting. Otherwise I’d probably just be too intimidated by it all and not bother.

  4. @Tipa – Some of my favorite illogicalities: so far, the one item I’ve found that hardest to find is: a chicken egg. Even though I raise chickens! And along the same lines… why does a chicken coup require FAR more resources than a barn?! LOL

    I’ve been running a forum since I left Strategy Plus Magazine (1994). It’s very small these days and in fact I think I’ve got new registrations turned off after I went a year or so with nothing but spammers registering.

    @Dickie — Y’know, you make a good point re hooks. I found LOTRO housing to be kind of limiting, but oto I find EQ2’s housing to be kind of intimidating. Maybe LOTRO just needs to add more hooks rather than removing them completely? But, as an example, I had a “pesky doormouse” for my house, which was a crack in the wall and a bit of cheese on the floor and every so often a mouse would run out and grab some cheese. But it took a “large wall” slot (iirc) of which I had… 3? 4? in the whole house.

  5. Thank you! After reading this, I suddenly no longer feel the need to apologize to the “hardcore raid” folks in WoW that look down their noses at me because I dress my character to fit her personal style from the armor available rather than wear a mish-mash of stuff to be as high as possible on the uber leet stat list. Yes, I may die a little more often, but I don’t mind. I look good as a corpse! 🙂

    I totally miss really involved crafting models, too. That’s probably my biggest complaint on WoW — please please please add player housing and more social options like social clothing, housing items, etc. Would be awesome to leave the non-combat pet home to “guard” the place.

    Anarchy Online had an interesting crafting model, except in that game you were creating implants. Not “crafting” in the truest sense, but it scratched that itch. Horizons (I think?) was also really cool with the crafting model, in that players could collectively repair/build major city structures or doing so opened new areas for conquer or what not. At least, I think that was the game’s name?

    Anyway, thanks for the mental ramble — it lined some ducks up in a row in my own thinking. 🙂

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